An article from the Institute for Security Studies shows why EU-ACP fisheries agreements have been blamed for overfishing and the targeting of fish stocks that are needed by local fishermen. The negotiation of fisheries agreements has lacked transparency, and key information on the implementation and performance of FPAs has been kept secret. It is also alleged that European boats fishing under access agreements have under-reported their catches, thereby denying some African states revenue. Critics of FPAs have also pointed out that through partnership agreements the EU has linked financial support for African fisheries directly to gaining access to commercial fishing. The number of fishing boats that are allowed to fish through these agreements directly influences the financial support given to the country for the development of their fisheries sector. This is a system that some believe encourages the licensing of too many boats, which may contribute to overfishing.
However, few experts would want to see FPAs scrapped altogether. This would merely open the way for a plethora of individual licenses and joint ventures, which would be much harder to regulate and may increase the opportunities for forms of corruption and illegalities. Moreover, the situation is worse with bilateral fisheries agreements signed between African states and Asian countries and fishing associations, which remain entirely confidential and quite possibly are to blame for more abuses at sea than the European agreements. In short, what critics of the EU want to see is a reform of FPAs, but not their removal.
Criticisms of the EU FPAs seem to have been taken on board. In a recent public hearing on the reform of the external dimensions of the EU’s CFP, the most important voices from the EC supported the idea of de-linking development support for fisheries in African countries from commercial access for European vessels. From 2012 the EC may commit itself to supporting the development of African fisheries on the basis of the needs of individual countries, irrespective of whether these countries agree to provide fishing opportunities to European vessels. The EU is also taking on board complaints about the lack of transparency associated with its dealings in African states. The EC is therefore contemplating adding anti-corruption and transparency clauses to all future agreements, as well as clauses stating that the EU will not fish in countries guilty of serious human rights abuses.
The ISS article asks why there this willingness to change by the EC: ‘It is possible that these policy ideas derive from frustration at the poor legacy of EU support for fishing-sector reforms in Africa, as well as the relentless criticism raised by NGOs.’ There may also be geo-political factors influencing these policy ideas. European fishing boats claim that Asian companies, for whom adherence to good governance is less of a concern or hindrance, are squeezing them out of African waters. What European fishing companies want to see is a level playing field, which they believe can be achieved through improving public access to information that would show clearly that they are more responsible than their competitors. To those who have followed developments in the extractive industries, this may seem familiar. Western companies championed good governance in the mining and oil sectors only when their hegemony was challenged by Chinese companies. Nevertheless, corporate self-interest in improving accountability does provide an opportunity for genuine reform, perhaps something that should be supported by civil society rather than dismissed as a cynical attempt by companies to stay in business.
It is interesting to note that most EU stakeholders, industry, NGOs, administrations, seem, for various reasons, to agree on basic principles for the reform of the CFP’s external dimension, and particularly the FPAs. Such positioning also echoes the ACP contribution to the ‘green paper’, where emphasis was placed on the need for higher priority for sustainable fisheries development in ACP countries rather than on the right of EU vessels to access ACP waters. This is positive for the future dialogue between the EU and ACP countries on these issues.